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Almost exactly a year ago, I published a post called Sacrifice about an impoverished expectant mother coming to my door asking for clothes for the baby who would soon be born; and how I had to work through the emotions of selfishness and give her things that were GOOD, things that would truly make a difference in her life.
At one point, I said the following in my post:
Special outfits made it into that bag yesterday. Some precious little dresses and pajamas that would make the eyes of her little princess look so bright and sweet all wrapped in beautiful fabric. One of my favorite soft pink blankets for her to wrap her darling baby in, like I had done with Jane and Margaret… I would actually remember her now, and think of her wrapping her baby up. I would actually remember to pray for her because she was wearing part of me.
Since that time, this mother has continued to come to my door, usually about every two months to ask for more clothes for her baby girl. I have each time given her clothes, chatted with her, and tried to build a sort of friendship with her. After a few visits with the woman and her baby, I began to realize that something wasn’t right. And then one day everything fell into place.
This woman didn’t have a baby girl. She had a baby boy. All this while, she had been keeping up a ruse, telling me she needed the clothes for her daughter when they were really to sell. So she made up a girl’s name for her child, presenting the baby boy each time as a baby girl.
The situation reminded me of how many times I have thought or heard others say things like “That wasn’t worth it, ” or “I was just trying to bless them, and look what happened,” or ” Wow. I learned my lesson. Never again…” I recognized in myself feelings of being victimized by this woman, feelings that my sacrifice on her behalf had been in vain.
And then I wondered, what if God destines my pearls to be trampled by swine? What is my reaction to that going to be? Do I truly believe He is doing something with that situation?
Caleb and I recently listened to a wonderful talk by Paul Tripp entitled “Conflict”. One of Tripp’s points was this : Your desire first and foremost should be God. Other desires take that place, becoming idols. Even if your desire is godly (for righteousness, forgiveness, justice, mercy), if that desire for that thing comes before God, it is an idol.
My true desire was to bless, a genuinely godly desire. But it didn’t happen like I anticipated. My pearls were trampled, and I was unhappy about it. Not surprised, exactly, but unhappy. I thought my gift was a pearl to be given wisely. Instead, it was taken advantage of and laughed at. The clothes were not treasured as I had wanted them to be, but rather cast off for money.
That was when I realized that perhaps the blessing of this act was not primarily the woman who was receiving the clothes, but rather what God was doing in me. You see, in my mind, I was the important element in this act of sacrifice. I was the one who was blessing someone else. I was putting myself first. My act of sacrifice had become an idol to me.
And God said “You have nothing to do with this. I can use you as a tool, but if this person is blessed, it will be by me, not you. You are a tool to bless. You do not run the universe. You are not in control. I am. You work and do what is right. I will bring the results as I will, not as you desire and will.”
Because this is how He works, overturning idols, working in unexpected ways. Sometimes the good is rejected, despised, just like Christ. He was the greatest, most precious gift of all, and yet
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)
And yet through this, God worked His wonderful plan of salvation for us. He did not respond in anger, withholding mercy, withholding grace. And neither must I when my gifts are abused, discarded, or despised. I learned that sacrifice is not only giving generously, but also giving disinterestedly, as unto the Lord, trusting in His providence and in His love to bring about blessing.
For some months now, several of our teammates have been talking up the book Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) short book about a (big) problem, by Kevin DeYoung. Now that I have finally gotten around to reading it, I know why. With endearing humility and a healthy dose of wit, DeYoung gives insight after insight into what causes the chaos in our lives and how we Christians should respond to it.
My wife and I have discussed the recurring problems of exhaustion and joylessness since coming to the field nearly three years ago. It seems that missionaries are not immune to the struggle to manage the busyness in our lives, busyness that can rob us of our joy in Christ. If anything, (if I can speak in generalities) we missionaries tend to lean more in the direction of barely controlled chaos than in the other direction. Like DeYoung says of himself in his book, Cassie and I are surviving, but we struggle enough to know we need help. (Come to think of it, at least two recent posts on this blog had to deal in some way with busyness. Must be on my mind.) This book has given us the help (and hope) we have been looking for.
Reading DeYoung, I am convicted of several things I need to change in my life, and although it’s nearly May, I am setting down a few “resolutions”, based on wisdom gleaned from DeYoung’s book, with the hope of finding greater balance between God-glorifying rest and work in my life. Here they are (all quotes from DeYoung):
1. I will (re)commit to making time with my Savior my number-one daily priority. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but DeYoung emphasizes this point in his book: we can get nowhere with the chaos in our lives if we don’t prioritize our relationship with Christ above all else. We do this best in our coming before Him daily in prayer and the study of scripture.
“If you are tired of feeling so dreadfully busy and are looking for a one-point plan to help restore order to your life, this is the best advice I know: devote yourself to the Word of God and prayer. ( . . . ) I can tell you that no single practice brings more peace and discipline to life than sitting at the feet of Jesus.”
2. I will not make excuses for pursuing things that distract me from my main calling, as far as I can discern that calling. Except maybe writing this blog post. Oops. Seriously, though, I need to more clearly define my priorities, and learn how kindly but firmly to say no to those things that distract me from those priorities.
“Jesus understood His mission. He was not driven by the needs of others, though he often stopped to help hurting people. He was not driven by the approval of others, though he cared deeply for the lost and broken. Ultimately, Jesus was driven by the Spirit. He was driven by his God-given mission. He knew his priorities and did not let the temptations of a busy life deter him from his task.”
3. I will not attempt to set others’ priorities for them. Likewise, I will not pressure others to over-commit themselves. I am too often guilty of impatiently waiting for responses to emails or phone calls, expecting others to follow my timelines. I do not respect others’ needs for rest and I expect others to align themselves to my priorities. This is a selfish and prideful tendency that I need to seek God’s help to change.
4. I will decrease my use of social media (i.e., Facebook) so that it does not distract me from my priorities. SometimesI read articles, blog posts, and just scroll Facebook as a mindless activity, in a sort of limbo between work and rest. Not too long ago I got frustrated with my three-year-old daughter for interrupting my mindless scrolling. Ouch. I know that much of my busyness comes from pursuing pointless activity, and not from legitimate activity aligned with my priorities.
5. I will obey God by seeking to rest in ways that glorify Him. Rest for me nearly always carries with it guilt. I recognize my need to thank God for the seasons of rest He gives and to rejoice in them as opportunities to hand over to God my efforts and entrust them to His stewardship.
“We tend to assume it’s always godlier to forego sleep for more important activity, but God made us physical beings. We can’t go without sleep for very long without doing our bodies and souls great damage. That’s the way God made us–finite and fragile. He made us to spend almost a third of our lives not doing anything except depending on Him. Going to sleep is our way of saying, ‘I trust you, God. You’ll be okay without me.’”
6. In times of unavoidable busyness, I will depend on Christ for strength. One thing I appreciated about DeYoung’s take on busyness is that he concedes that there are seasons in life that are (and should be) very busy. The problem is when the busyness overtakes our lives. This reminds me of a metaphor a missionary friend once used to describe life here in Peru. He told me to ride the waves: when the culture slows down, it’s time for the missionary to slow down, too. I want to learn to ride the waves while trusting in Christ for strength to get through the busy times. Also, I am learning the importance of making time to speak with people for lengthy periods, something our host culture values highly. My tendency has been to want to pencil people in, and when my scheduled time with them is up, move them along. But people are not projects and I must stop treating them like projects.
“But I know from personal experience that some forms of busyness are from the Lord and bring Him glory. Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. Relationships are messy. If we love others, how can we not be busy and burdened at least some of the time?”
7. I will confront, confess, and repent regularly of the pride in my heart that leads me to over-commit and over-extend myself. I so often say yes to others because I want them to be impressed by my willingness to serve and my go-get-’em spirit. I do not say yes because I want to serve, but because I want to be seen serving.
8. I will understand that I cannot be involved with every cause that I care about, and gladly give those causes over to Christ in prayer. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of requests for help we receive as missionaries. And even when no one is directly requesting our help, we are made aware of great needs through many channels. Sometimes (praise God!) we have the resources necessary to help meet these needs (funds, wisdom, time). Other times I simply have no where to turn but to the Lord. It is a comfort to know He is at work, always, bringing about His great purposes, whether or not I am involved.
I would appreciate your prayers on our behalf as my wife and I seek to make God-glorifying changes to our lives. We know it’s a process. Praise God that He is patient with us!